Home Opinion and Features Big dreams: From a mining town to a university town

Big dreams: From a mining town to a university town

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With its gaze firmly set on transforming Kimberley from a mining town into a university town, the Sol Plaatje University has made great strides after mining giant De Beers donated its R54 million Harry Oppenheimer House building to the local institution of learning.

The managing director of De Beers Group Managed Operations, Moses Madondo, hands over the key to the building to the vice-chancellor and principal of Sol Plaatje University, Professor Andrew Crouch. Picture: Soraya Crowie

WITH its gaze firmly set on transforming Kimberley from a mining town into a university town, the Sol Plaatje University (SPU) has made great strides after mining giant De Beers donated its R54 million Harry Oppenheimer House (HOH) building to the local institution of learning.

De Beers said the aim of the donation is to have a long-lasting impact on the future of the Northern Cape and to support the development of the Province’s youth through education.

The donation comes after De Beers relocated its rough diamond sorting and valuation facility to Johannesburg in January this year.

The vice-chancellor and principal of SPU, Professor Andrew Crouch, said the donation fits into the vision and legacy of the university.

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“The fact that there is such a significant donation from De Beers in the form of a building that they must feel represents them, as they have been sorting and polishing diamonds in this building for the past 49 years, must be a bitter-sweet feeling. It is also difficult for them to let go of the building.

“However, the confidence they have in the university by donating the building, signifies that the transition of the town is taking place. I still have the dream of turning Kimberley into a university town from a mining town. If I live long enough, I want to see that happen,” said Crouch.

He added that they want to preserve the history and legacy of the building.

“This building will be used as one of the main administrative blocks. We will use the building as our administrative hub. We also want to keep part of the building in its original state so that people do not forget what this building was originally used for. That also signifies that we must not rub out history as if it never happened.

“The fact that this building was a sorting house for so many years had an impact on many people’s lives and they must return here and educate residents on what a sorting floor looked like. Apart from the tourist aspect, that can also have a lasting effect for educational purposes.”

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Crouch said the building would retain its original name.

“The name of the building will remain ‘Harry Oppenheimer House’. We will, obviously, re-brand the building. We intend to move in April and May 2024. Some parts of the building are already ready for occupancy. We will have to do some minor refurbishment and see that the health and safety aspects are met prior to our move. Like any old building, we would need to conduct some maintenance work.”

He added that his long-term view for the university is to expand as more modules are introduced.

“At this stage, I am looking for a space where we can have our future Faculty of Health Sciences. I am also looking at the continuation of our campus, between our North and Central campuses. There is one building which is between our North and Central campuses that I would like to have.

“That building would be the ideal space for a Health Sciences faculty. The Northern Cape needs nurses, occupational therapists and social workers in terms of human resource capacity.

“If one looks at the long-term view of a university generally, one needs space to expand. We are in the city and there is very limited space to expand. The acquisition of the Oppenheimer Gardens gave us some space for expansion possibilities.

“However, we also want to preserve that space as a public space and use part of it as a botanical garden, because we are introducing agriculture, and also use it as a laboratory. If there is anyone who wants to donate their building, we would be happy to take it,” he smiled.

Crouch said the university also has plans in place to address the influx of students and staff.

“Since the inception of the institution, the university has spent millions of rand to build bulk infrastructure. To date, we have developed bulk infrastructure around our central campus that the university paid for. The university also paid for the fixing of roads. Scanlan Street was fully developed by the university at our cost.

“In future, we anticipate building a traffic circle where Bishop’s Road and Bultfontein Road intersect – at the cost of the university. In our next phase of infrastructure development, we will build a sewage line from our South Campus to one of the main lines to deal with the bulk of sewage. Due to the high water demand, we will be drilling boreholes to supply some of our water requirements. At this stage, we are thinking of supplementing our two-day water reserves with borehole water.

“We will work in partnership with the municipality to solve the problem of bulk infrastructure in the city because we are not operating as an island,” Crouch concluded.

The managing director of the De Beers Group Managed Operations, Moses Madondo, said the donation also serves as evidence of the long-standing relationship between the mining company and SPU.

“The relationship between the university and De Beers dates back to when the Province was canvassing for a university to be established in Kimberley, with De Beers providing the necessary support towards that objective,” said Madondo.

“When the establishment of the university was approved by the national government, De Beers and Kumba Iron Ore, part of the Anglo American Group, contributed R96 million towards the establishment of the university infrastructure. In partnership with the Anglo American Foundation, De Beers invested a further R12.1 million in 2021 to support the university’s Talent Pipeline Programme for three years.

“When we relocated our rough diamond sorting and valuation facility from Kimberley to Johannesburg, we made a commitment that our remaining assets would be utilised for the benefit of the city of Kimberley and the Province. The 53-metre-high building will be used as the main administration block and will serve as the strategic headquarters of the university.

“This additional administrative capacity will free up space in the university’s current headquarters, Luka Jantjie House, to develop offices for the recently launched Centre for Continuous Professional Development that is driving the university’s short course platform,” said Madondo.

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